finding 23.5 : key-message-23-5

Tribal and Indigenous communities are particularly vulnerable to climate change due to water resource constraints, extreme weather events, higher temperature, and other likely public health issues (likely, high confidence). Efforts to build community resilience can be hindered by economic, political, and infrastructure limitations (likely, high confidence), but traditional knowledge and intertribal organizations provide opportunities to adapt to the potential challenges of climate change.



This finding is from chapter 23 of Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: The Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II.

Process for developing key messages:

The initial Southern Great Plains author team was selected such that expertise from each of the states’ officially recognized climate offices in the region (Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas) were included. The offices of the state climatologist in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas are each members of the American Association of State Climatologists, which is the recognized professional scientific organization for climate expertise at the state level.

One representative from each of several regional hubs of national and regional climate expertise was included on the author team. These regional hubs include the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Southern Plains Climate Hub (El Reno, Oklahoma), the U.S. Department of the Interior’s South Central Climate Adaptation Science Center (Norman, Oklahoma), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments Southern Climate Impacts Planning Program (Norman, Oklahoma).

After assessing the areas of expertise of the six authors selected from the state and regional centers, a gap analysis was conducted to prioritize areas of expertise that were missing. Due to the importance of the sovereign tribal nations to the Southern Great Plains, an accomplished scholar with expertise in Indigenous knowledge on the environment and climate change was selected from the premier tribal university in the United States, Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas. An individual from the Environmental Science Institute at the University of Texas at Austin was selected to bring expertise on the complex intersection of coupled atmosphere–land–ocean systems, climate, and humans (population and urbanization). Expertise in the electric utility industry was gained through the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperatives by an individual with a long history of working with rural and urban populations and with researchers and forecasters in weather and climate.

The author group decided to allow Southern Great Plains stakeholders to drive additional priorities. On March 2, 2017, the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) Southern Great Plains chapter team held a Regional Engagement Workshop at the National Weather Center in Norman, Oklahoma, with a satellite location in Austin, Texas, that allowed a number of stakeholders to participate virtually. The objective of the workshop was to gather input from a diverse array of stakeholders throughout the Southern Great Plains to help inform the writing and development of the report and to raise awareness of the process and timeline for NCA4. Stakeholders from meteorology, climatology, tribes, agriculture, electric utilities, water resources, Bureau of Land Management, ecosystems, landscape cooperatives, and transportation from Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas were represented. The productive dialog at this workshop identified important gaps in environmental economics, ecosystems, and health. Scientists working at the cutting edge of research in these three areas were selected: an ecosystems expert from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, an environmental economist from the department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability at the University of Oklahoma, and health experts from the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the Aspen Global Change Institute.

This diverse collection of medical doctors, academics, researchers, scientists, and practitioners from both federal and state agencies gives the Southern Great Plains chapter a wealth of expertise across the many ways in which climate change will affect people in the region.

Description of evidence base:

This Key Message was developed through dialog and discussions among Indigenous communities and within the social sciences discipline. While Indigenous communities vary in size from smaller nations to large well-formed governments, all are in need of communication about the realities of climate change.bf19cfe7-2575-48e2-8d26-b0081117369a Climate change threatens the ability of tribes and Indigenous peoples to procure food, water, and shelter and to preserve ancient cultural activities.64063229-e3bd-4ab7-ba73-41909ca78211,e57a7177-cf14-4499-9d13-73eeeaa0a89c,6432d1d0-e575-408c-813f-72328516653c The impacts of excessive heat, drought, and the disappearance of native species are already disrupting ceremonial cycles in Oklahoma.380ea6e0-a149-46ef-83d1-e1350cbb0440 There is strong evidence that because of the unique nature of the Indigenous communities, including previous and ongoing experiences of the communities, the collective economic and political power for enacting efficient and effective climate adaptation responses could be limited at best.66055874-5431-432f-b556-be3309877cc8,6558d4a8-7c60-4805-be6d-6c575918b18d,056c2684-cb89-4470-80ed-ccc79acec1ab There is a consensus among the nations that impacts of climate change will be a direct threat to the symbiotic connection between environment and the tribal traditions connecting the people with the land.

New information and remaining uncertainties:

There is a great deal of uncertainty regarding how tribal communities will integrate climate change into their cultures, given the variable size of these communities and the challenges of connecting and communicating with clarity among them. It is likely that adaptation strategies will vary greatly as knowledge and communication might not be widely supported within all nations.60233f20-d45f-4086-ada7-00dbd47712c3,7c6f29b3-b09f-4138-b049-5fc5397b6fa4,84368091-876c-4474-93de-50d64e88cf56 Due to disproportionate rates of poverty and access to information and collaborative support, some communities could suffer more than others; however, the degree and the impacts of such are unclear.

Assessment of confidence based on evidence:

There is high confidence that extreme events and long-term climate shifts will lead to changes in tribal and Indigenous communities in the Southern Great Plains. Environmental connections will be direct, but the degree of those connections is uncertain and shifts in climate system will impact each nation differently. How changes will be perceived and managed and what steps are taken to adapt are uncertain; thus, there is low confidence that adaptation will be a successful mechanism among all tribal and Indigenous peoples.

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